High Speed Hallucinations - USA Today

Think your commute is tough?
By Debbie Howlett and Paul Overberg, USA TODAY


Today's USA Today front page story on commuting was fairly well balanced compared to previous articles. The subject was people who commute more than 90 minutes. The article was devoid of the usual smart growth hyperbole to the effect that people have to commute long distances. The reporters rightly noted that much of long commuting has to do with finding the housing people want at a price they can afford.

But the article was not without the usual bone-headedness. The reporters bought on to the line that the proposed high-speed rail line from San Francisco to San Diego through Palmdale and downtown Los Angeles would speed up travel for commuters. Anyone who thinks that the average commuter would be able to afford the high-speed rail fares knows nothing about high-speed rail. The consultant also mused that the line would be the equivalent of an 8-lane freeway, seeming to provide further evidence that innumeracy continues its plague-like march through the public sector.

Even if the 8-lane hallucination were valid, it would make little difference, since so few people in Palmdale ride transit to begin with. If all of the people riding the "popular" double-deck trains to downtown went instead by car, they would fall at least 75 percent short of using up the capacity of a freeway lane. But, following the logic that seems to apply so often in transit, people will get out of their cars to get on trains that aren't going where they are. The problem, of course, is that transit is about downtown. In most large metropolitan area, only 10 percent of employment is downtown. The number is even lower in Los Angeles, at 3 percent. So if high-speed rail is the equivalent of an 8-lanes freeway, it is an empty freeway.